The problem with reading a book before watching the big screen adaptation is that throughout the entire film you will be left wondering. Of course you are reading the material exactly as the author intended, but sections will always be cut in order to squeeze the story into a more bite size chunk for cinema. This is something that plagued me throughout watching The Help. While it is a great outing for a book to film, the reader in me was left wanting more than ever.
If you haven’t read the book, you will likely find the film entertaining and succinct with its plot. Tate Taylor has done well wrapping all of Stocketts brilliant characterisation and delivering it in a genuinely funny and touching film. However, as somebody who not only read the book, but has held it in high regard since, I wanted to see the relationship between Skeeter and her Father, I wanted to see more about Celia and Minnie and I wanted more from Aibileen in general.
If you want to know what the book (and this film) is about, then check out my review of the book from earlier this year.
What works really well is the casting. Emma Stone plays Skeeter with all of the sincerity and boldness that the novels character delivers so well. She is our moral compass, our mouthpiece for the travesties that blacks of the time suffered. Stone plays Skeeter brilliantly and elevates the character to a new level.
The best representation of a character has to go to Viola Davis as Aibileen and Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, more on the latter, later. Aibileen was always going to be a tough character to portray, for much of the book her story comes from memories and anecdotal moments, so it was a touch of genius having her narrate rather than the more obvious choice of Skeeter. Davis plays Aibileen with pure class, allowing enough vulnerability through for the audience while still holding onto her strong sensibilities. She delivers all of the emotion of difficult scenes with style and she lights up the screen during the snatches of heroic status.
And then comes Jessica Chastain as Celia, my favourite character from the novel. Chastain struts in Celia’s high hells brilliantly with all of the false confidence of her written counterpart. The beauty of Celia as a character is her constant need for attention and her fragility, both of which Chastain captures with ease. It’s a shame that she gets little screen time compared to the page time that Celia received from Stockett.
To be honest, those women are the gems on display but that doesn’t mean that anyone on screen does a particularly bad job. Bryce Dallas Howard brings difficult character Hilly to screen with conviction, too and her part should not be overlooked. Nods also go to Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek for great sideline performances.
Of course it’s hard for me to judge the film from the position of someone who hasn’t read the book, but judging by my wife’s laughter and tears, I can see she was entertained and enjoyed it immensely (coming home and ordering herself a copy of the book, too). My biggest gripe was the structure of the film. There wasn’t enough to tell the viewer about the ageing of the characters. One minute Elizabeth Leefolt is slim of waist, the next she is ballooned with pregnancy and then in the following scene, gone again. Nothing told the viewer about the passing of time, as the book is set over quite a long period.
Overall, I was pleased, overjoyed in fact, by the adaptation. I laughed at the right moments and I fought back the tears when the emotion ran high. It’s on the long side, but I would have asked for more if I could have. It’s easily one of the best adaptations I’ve seen, though I’d be interested to hear the opinions from those who haven’t read the book and whether they would now read the far superior book. A truly great film that, for once, does the book some justice.